The research tradition within the Human Behavior and Design major is based on the social sciences, in particular environmental psychology and human factors and ergonomics. The underlying premise is that systematic, empirical research based in the social sciences, when combined with an understanding of design processes, can contribute to the planning, design, and management of environments that enhance individual and organizational effectiveness.

Program Focus

The Ph.D. in Human Behavior and Design at Cornell University is a multidisciplinary program integrating the social sciences and design. Research focuses on environmental settings across a range of scales (from products to buildings to cities), that support safe, healthy and productive behaviors and foster sustainable design and lifestyles.

The program brings together faculty and students with expertise in the fields of interior, industrial and graphic design, architecture, art, design history, historic preservation, design with digital media, building technology, environmental psychology, human factors and ergonomics, economics, and facility planning and management to work on problems related to the interior environment.

The Human Behavior and Design major rests on the following basic premises:

  • Development of the knowledge base guiding the planning, design, and management of physical settings requires systematic, empirical research.
  • The physical environment affects the realization of human and organizational potential including health, safety, comfort, productivity and satisfaction.
  • The users of environments are diverse and have different needs. Individual characteristics such as culture, gender, stage in the life course, family structure, role or task affect environmental needs.
  • Organizational culture, goals, and structure help shape building design and use.
  • The planning, design, and management of good environments require consideration of all users.
  • Understanding organizational and human needs is no less critical than understanding financial, technological and aesthetic factors influencing the planning, design, and management of our physical surroundings.
  • Multidimensional spatial experiences are heightened through an understanding of design elements, such as circulation, materials, lighting and acoustics.
  • Theory provides a foundation that both informs and is informed by research and practice.

The program draws its strength from faculty knowledge and research in the following four areas:

  • Design
  • Environmental Psychology
  • Facility Planning and Management
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics

Ph.D. Requirements

Ph.D. in Human Behavior and Design curriculum requirements

People who embrace thinking across disciplinary boundaries and who have a passion for teaching and scholarship are encouraged to apply. The strength of this unique new program is the integration of scientific and creative expertise within the same department. Applicants' prior disciplines might include (but are not limited to): social science, design, or engineering.

Prospective students are encouraged to check out our frequently asked questions below. If you have a question that you can't find the answer to, please contact the Graduate Field Assistant at deagrad@cornell.edu.

Applications are due November 1st. Applications are accepted for Fall Admission only.  The application system opens August 15th.

In addition to the online application via the Graduate School website, the following required documents must be submitted online:

  • Academic Statement of Purpose (within 500 words)
  • Personal Statement (limit 500 words)
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts
  • Writing sample
  • Curriculum vitae
  • GRE general test (The desired combined score should be greater than or equal to 310—for the new scoring system effective November 2011—or, a combined score of 1200 for the old scoring system.)
  • English Language Proficiency Requirement, As an international applicant, you must demonstrate proficiency in the English language by taking a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam. (See exceptions)
  • TOEFL - test for International students (DEA overall minimum: 105, plus Graduate School minimums must be met for each section: writing: 20; listening: 15; reading: 20; speaking: 22)
  • OR IELTS - The Graduate School requires an overall band score of a 7.0 or higher on the IELTS

The intent of the Ph.D. in Human Behavior and Design program is that all admitted students will be fully funded with tuition, fees, and a stipend for a period of four academic (9 months) years contingent upon satisfactory progress toward the degree.

Any questions, please contact the Graduate Field Assistant: deagrad@cornell.edu.

For additional information on how to apply, please visit the Graduate School Admissions website.

Prospective Ph.D. Application Requirement FAQ

Contact the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), Jack Elliott, at jre15@cornell.edu or 607-255-9714.

First, you should read papers written by faculty with whom you might like to work to see if your interests align. Carefully review the websites and online materials provided by the program. In your application, describe your experience related to research, statistics, design, etc. Demonstrate your research experience. Describe you interests – possible dissertation research directions. Indicate your goals following the PhD. Request letters of recommendation from people who can speak to your research aptitude, commitment, preparedness, work ethic.

Yes, the Graduate School can help with this, but you must still adhere to our requirements and deadlines. 

No, we only have one admission cycle, applications are due in November for PhD; students start in the Fall semester of the following year.

All application materials are submitted online via the Graduate School’s application system (available on the web at: http://www.gradschool.cornell.edu/admissions/applying/apply-now). 

No, a portfolio is not required for the Ph.D. degree.

No, but scholarly writing sample submissions are preferred (ex: Master’s Thesis; Peer Review Journal Article; Senior Honors Project).

D+EA provides four years of funding to Ph.D. students in HBD, as long as students’ progress and performance is satisfactory. This funding could take the form of teaching assistantships, research assistantships, fellowships, or some combination and is typically for the nine-month academic year.

No, it is not necessary to have an MS or MA before beginning the PhD.  The strongest applicants are those who have a foundation in research (e.g., have completed a research thesis (undergrad or graduate), have participated in a lab as a research assistant, have perhaps taken a social science research methods class).

For the PhD in Human Behavior and Design, a background in both design and research is preferred, but students may come from a variety of disciplines.

Yes, HOWEVER, if substantial progress has not been made on their Master’s, then it’s a long shot. Applicants should be told the following two things: 1. Their Ph.D. work will take 4 years to complete, and 2. Lack of substantial progress on their Master’s Thesis will be viewed as a liability.

Yes. Note that GRE scores must be less than five years old and TOEFL/IELTS scores must be dated within two years of the application deadline.

No. Academic letters of recommendation are valuable and somewhat preferable; however recommendations should be from people who can best assess the qualities, characteristics, and capabilities of the applicant. 

Cornell’s institutional test code for ETS is 2098. DEA’s department code is 4499.

D+EA recommends a combined verbal/quantitative GRE score of 310 (new scoring system effective November 2011) or a combined score of 1200 (old scoring) but this is not an absolute cutoff. Candidates with strong applications, but scores below this level, may be considered. You may submit scores to D+EA more than once if you re-take the test. Your scores may not be older than 5 years. Please plan to take the GRE in time to submit your scores by the application due date. 

No, the GR’s can't be waived.

Yes, GREs can be retaken, but scores must be submitted by the application deadline. 

We strongly encourage you to take the GRE and TOEFL/IELTS tests early enough in advance that your scores will be received by our application due date. We may allow some latitude, however. If your official scores have not arrived by the due date, but your unofficial scores have, we may hold your application if approved by the DGS. Your scores are automatically reported to Cornell by the testing service (ETS) as soon as they are ready, and the Graduate Field Assistant will automatically add them to your packet.

D+EA recommends a GPA of 3.0 (minimum), but this is not an absolute cutoff.

The online application requires you to upload an unofficial copy of each official transcript from each college or university previously attended. To prepare your transcripts, follow the steps below:

  1. Do not upload transcripts that include a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN). Redact, cross out, or cover your SSN, if applicable, prior to scanning the document.
  2. The online application will not accept or properly display encrypted or password-protected documents. Official electronic transcripts (e-transcripts) must be printed first, then scanned and uploaded.
  3. Scan or save each transcript (and the English translation, if applicable) as a PDF, TIFF, JPEG, or GIF file. Combine multiple pages from the same transcript into one file; the file size for each upload cannot exceed 10MB. 
  4. Ensure each scanned or saved image is clear and easy to read before submitting your application.

Admitted students who accept the admission offer are required to submit an official paper transcript prior to matriculation. This requirement will appear on the “response to offer of admission” form. For more information visit: https://gradschool.cornell.edu/admissions/prepare/transcripts/

It is advised that you periodically check your application on line to see if your application is complete, especially if you are waiting for letters of recommendation to be uploaded. D+EA’s Graduate Field Assistant may, as a courtesy, send you a reminder if you have missing information when the committee begins to review applications. If you have questions, please contact D+EA’s Graduate Field Assistant at deagrad@cornell.edu or 607-255-2168.

Yes, we allow deferments up to one year, but this must be decided when responding to the department’s offer.  To request a deferral, by the "reply by" date (typically April 15) an applicant must first accept the offer of admission and then request (and provide a reason for) the deferral.  Applicants cannot defer admission after declining our offer; instead the applicant must re-apply.

Yes, but this is on a case-by-case basis, and the D+EA Graduate Faculty will make decisions as to what is allowed or not allowed. Typically, you will need to provide a syllabus for your prior course(s).

 If you would like to schedule a visit, you should first make an appointment with D+EA’s DGS. If you would like to meet with other D+EA Faculty, you could also schedule meetings with them while you are on campus. Many students also enjoy taking a walking tour of campus while they are here: http://www.cornell.edu/visiting/ithaca/walking_tours.cfm.    Other useful links include the campus map and the Visit Ithaca web site: http://www.visitithaca.com/

Ph.D. Program FAQ

Our Ph.D. students often find jobs in academia but some choose to pursue jobs in industry (e.g. Apple, Google) or as design researchers/environmental psychologists within large architecture firms.

Yes, The Graduate School regularly collects and shares information on graduate student experiences and outcomes to support prospective applicants in their decision-making process. For more information please see their metrics and outcomes data.

No, D+EA does not offer online classes for the Ph.D. program.

Yes, the Ph.D. program is STEM certified.

The first two years are dedicated primarily to course work (in your major field and two minor fields).  At the end of year 2, PhD students complete qualifying exams (“A Exam”).  Arrangements for you’re A-Exam are made with your dissertation committee. A dissertation is required.  Years 3 and 4 focus primarily on research and the completion of the dissertation.  The “B Exam” is the dissertation defense. 

Yes, PhD students are expected to be on campus for the 4-year PhD degree. For more information please see: https://living.cornell.edu/live/wheretolive/housingoptions/index.cfm 

This depends on what sort of funding is awarded to the doctoral student. In most cases, Ph.D. students will be asked to function as a teaching assistant for at least part of their time in D+EA.